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Kitchens at your service

Last updated on February 1, 2019

With more and more people wanting cooked food at their doorsteps, ‘Ghost Restaurants’ are springing up, with a lot of help from food delivery apps

Had Nishtha Sachdeva, 30, devoted her life to a music career as a jazz singer, the people of Gurugram would have missed savouring the Mexican fast food her kitchen offers.

The Citrus Lime Chicken Taco or Cheese Quesadilla would have gone for a toss, giving Taco Bell a complete monopoly over the city of Gurugram. That never happened, because Sachdeva laid out the blueprint for her first business alongside pursuing a career in music after returning from the US.

She returned to Delhi in 2017 and started Los Pepes Taqueria, a Mexican fast food joint, in December last year. But you cannot go there to enjoy the food: It is meant to be savoured in your bedroom/living room.
That’s the idea behind the concept of ‘Ghost Restaurants also known as ‘Dark Kitchens’. The enterprising people who have adopted this business model hire/buy a space, set up the kitchen, brainstorm on the cuisine and food menu and hit ‘Accepting orders’ on Zomato or Swiggy. And voila!

“I always wanted to have a cafe of my own with music and arts, like Piano Man, the jazz bar, but that was a big investment, so I thought of starting smaller,” says Sachdeva. She credits online food delivery apps like Zomato and Swiggy with helping entrepreneurs like her to enter the food industry.

While Sachdeva’s mother is not too fond of cooking, she is different. Since her childhood, she has been honing her skills in cuisines as diverse as Thai and Mughlai. She also relished plenty of cuisines during her time in Los Angeles — and wanted to bring a taste of LA to India.

She and her friends Shivalika Kalra and Akhil Anand pooled into an investment of around Rs 8-10 lakh. “We had to buy the equipment and do some modifications to the space,” says Sachdeva. They decided on a place in DLF Phase IV, Gurugram, for which the monthly rental is Rs 25,000.

Sachdeva also tells that there’s a significant difference in the food profile of people in India and US. “With each feedback and bunch of trials with friends and family, we changed the taste of bread and cheese,” reveals Sachdeva.

She also reveals that today Los Pepes Taqueria gets great business through Zomato and Swiggy. The target audience for the joint is mainly youth and “people with bigger spending capacity.” An average dish in the restaurant costs Rs 350, so it’s self-explanatory that the restaurant caters to a certain type of customers.

It’s not like Sachdeva has forgotten about her music career. She does gigs once in three months. However, her main focus is her kitchen, for which she wishes to open two more branches — one in Delhi and the other in Mumbai.

Like Sachdeva, Karan Nambiar (30) too, changed professions to fulfil his dream to be in the food industry. He was a jockey at a local radio station. But his focus too shifted to owning a kitchen.

He opened a ‘dark kitchen’ by the name of Captain Grub, an American fast-food delivery-only place known for its gourmet burgers with Ashwin Venkatraman.

He first started the kitchen by investing Rs 15 lakh, his own savings in a space in Vasant Kunj, the area he lives in. And then gradually expanded operations in other parts of Delhi-NCR such as Greater Kailash, DLF (Gurugram) and Noida.

Karan is proud of the standards maintained by his Noida kitchen. “It’s a very high quality kitchen and we ensure that the staff adheres to the sanitation rules set by us,” Nambiar claims.

On a visit to the kitchen to Noida, Patriot found that indeed sanitation is the first priority. From the burner to the sink, each element of the kitchen station was sparkling clean.

“The first two years were a struggle as we tried to understand the nuances of the food industry,” recalls Nambiar. With the help of friends who already were working in the industry, the business was set on the right path.

So much so, that today Captain Grub, as written on the menu, has another “brother from another mother” called Captain Chang, a Pan-Asian kitchen.

During the visit to the kitchen, one of the chefs who cooks for Captain Grub says, “Gourmet burgers are better in taste and quantity. The patty is of 80 gram.” Chicken Grubber indeed justifies its price.

While Sachdeva and Nambiar and are happy with the logistics provided by Zomato and Swiggy. Saniya Puniani feels her product is “best delivered through in-house delivery persons.”

Puniani co-owns Baking Bad, a pizza-only place specialising in wood fire pizzas. This is not her first food business. Before this, she was running a multi-cuisine kitchen called Munchbox, but decided to switch to something new.

About not being on Zomato/Swiggy, she says, “We make 17.5 inch pizzas. The kind of bags they use, our quality would have been compromised.

Today, she has three branches in Delhi-NCR. Not only was the business fruitful for her professionally but personally too. Her partner, who started out as a friend, is her husband now.

She says that the USP of Baking Bad is that it enables customers to customise their pizza. “You can choose between different bases, sauces and toppings,” says Puniani. Next on her menu is a cafe somewhere in Delhi. “Nothing has been finalised yet,” she concludes.

While these people were driven by their love for food without any training, Adnan Arif from Rajasthan, co-owner of Rumi Food Company, studied hotel management. After working with different luxury hotels, he acted on his brother’s advice to open his own food business.

About dark kitchens, Arif says “You don’t need to work on the physical appearance but the online appearance.” He is proud of Murgh Zamin Doz, a signature dish which is popular with his clientele. The secret behind its success seems to be that it is cooked in a tandoor for two hours.

His Gurugram kitchen covers a space of 500 sq ft in a building still under construction. “It took us 28 days to set up with very basic kitchen equipment. Being a chef, I knew how to design my own kitchen,” explains Arif.

While his brother had his back, Arif’s mother did not approve of his choice. “She started shouting at us, asking why I am abandoning my career?”

However, his philosophy is that “Life demands sacrifices.” The name of his kitchen was inspired by 13th century Persian poet Rumi as “Food is a way to express love. It plays an important role on every occasion.”

With an initial investment of Rs 20-25 lakh for equipment and renovation, he spent Rs 1 lakh on online marketing alone. “It was essential to let people know that we have arrived,” he says.

Rumi Food Company delivers food through Zomato, Swiggy and in-house delivery persons. “Eighty per cent of our business comes from Zomato and the rest from Swiggy and direct calls,” says Arif.

On an average, he receives 70 orders a day. A team of 8-12 people cook mouth-watering North Indian food. “Our Murgh Dahi Stew is quite a favourite among our customers,” saysArif. It’s also close to his heart, as his father taught him to cook it in his childhood.

The stories of these people suggest that the future for ‘dark kitchens’ is bright. Their passion for cooking is a driving force inside the kitchen, while online food delivery apps fuel their growth.